Marathon Swimmer Charlotte Samuels: Working to Make Water Accessible to All

Photo Courtesy: Charlotte Samuels

By Melissa Berkay, Swimming World College Intern

Charlotte Samuels, a recent graduate of Ridgewood High School, has made her mark in the worlds of marathon swimming and community service. In 2015, she became the first person to swim a course of more than 20 miles from Long Island to the Jersey Shore through an area known as the New York Bight.

Samuels also became the youngest person in the world to complete the “Triple Crown” of open water swimming. She conquered the feat in 2014 when she mastered the English Channel, the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, and the Catalina Channel. The previous record had been held by an 18-year-old Australian swimmer.

Samuels’ swimming career launched at age 12 when a friend encouraged her to participate in a mile-long swim in the Potomac River in Maryland; it was then that she discovered her love for open water swimming. 

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Photo Courtesy: Charlotte Samuels

Samuels affirms that it was the concrete love and passion for the sport that pushed her to succeed in these crossings. The same passion and love for the sport of swimming inspired Samuels to give back to her local communities and to the open water swimming community.

“I love open water swimming for the challenge and the unpredictability, but also for the unbelievable closeness that it gives me to nature. I also love the community of people that I have become very close with through this special sport,” Samuels said

Samuels was recognized for her excellent community leadership on June 5, 2016 at the Unitarian Society of Ridgewood in Ridgewood, New Jersey. She was honored by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Committee of Ridgewood and Glen Rock for her service to the communities of underprivileged youth in Paterson, New Jersey and in Manhattan, New York. A grant was awarded to Samuels, for her fundraising endeavors to benefit Citizens For Swimming and Swim Free. Both organizations provide free water-safety instruction to less-fortunate youth who would not otherwise have opportunities to practice water safety or learn how to swim.

“I feel grateful for being recognized for a cause that is so close to my heart. I am so glad to give back to it,” Samuels said.

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Photo Courtesy: Charlotte Samuels

As drowning is a sweeping issue in the African-American and Hispanic communities, Samuels has partnered up with Citizens For Swimming and Swim Free to become a pioneer in the efforts to expand the accessibility of water-safety instruction specifically throughout the areas of Paterson and Manhattan.

With high unemployment rates, high and crime rates, broken families, and inadequate housing, most children from low-income families lack the ability and resources to learn how to swim. Samuels has made it her mission to help children of every background to gain access to water-safety instruction.

“Being able to work with underprivileged children in a town that is right next to mine, but so different, has changed my life. I love being able to work so closely with people to teach them a skill that can both save their life and enhance it,” Samuels said.

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Photo Courtesy: Charlotte Samuels

In addition to auspiciously working with Citizens For Swimming and Swim Free, Samuels has also produced noteworthy results in fundraising for Swim Across America, an organization that supports and raises funds for cancer research. She partakes in public speaking and motivational work with the YWCA of Bergen County, as well as with local Girl Scouts.

“Giving back to the community has helped me grow as both a person and as a swimmer,” Samuels said.

There is a potential that her crossing from Long Island to the Jersey Shore may trigger the creation of a marathon swim on the East Coast comparable to marathon swims in other areas, such as the English Channel. By being the first person to complete the New York Bight crossing from Long Island to the Jersey Shore, Samuels’ goal is to inspire more swimmers to complete the crossing.

“I wanted to get back in the open water after completing my Triple Crown swims. I wanted to take part in a swim that had never been attempted before and the New York Bight was incredible because it is right in the New York backyard,” Samuels said.

Alongside extremely supportive family and friends, Samuels’ strength coach, Meaghan Murphy, has been an asset to her success in and out of the water. Lynne Cox, Roger Finch, Tracy Clark, Dave Barra, and Rondi Davies are distinguished individuals who have also inspired Samuels to flourish and triumph in her marathon swimming performances.

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Photo Courtesy: Charlotte Samuels

Samuels has her sights set on Smith College for the fall of 2016 where she loves the idea of taking small classes with women. She feels as though she could be both nurtured and challenged. Smith College’s head swim coach Kim Bierwert will be supportive of Samuels’ swimming both in and out of the pool. He has coached several women across channel swims.

Along with open water swimming, writing is one of Samuels’ passions. Earth and String is a poem by Samuels that was published in April of this year. More of her writing can be found on her WordPress site.

“I love writing because I love language. I love the endless routes one can take as a writer and how one can bounce back to the words at any point in his or her life. I think that swimming has made me more aware. Through swimming, I found writing,” Samuels said.

She is currently training with the Bergen Barracuda Swim Team, and is planning another marathon swim in the beginning of July; Samuels will be participating in the 8 Bridges Swim where she will be swimming the stage between Bear Mountain Bridge and the Tappan Zee Bridge. She will be supporting one of her friends, Paige Christie, who will complete all 7 stages. For the remainder of this summer, Samuels will also work as a lifeguard and do more volunteer work with Citizens For Swimming and the Ridgewood YWCA.

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Photo Courtesy: Charlotte Samuels

Samuels recommends open water swimming to individuals from all walks of life. Whether an experienced pool swimmer, or a beginning swimmer, she considers participating in open water swimming to be a valuable experience for anyone.

“There is a whole world and oceans just waiting to be crossed. You can do swims, big or small. I think every swimmer should experience it, and everyone who loves nature should also experience open water swimming,” Samuels said.

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Author: Melissa Berkay

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Melissa Berkay is a student at Mills College and represented Mills at the 2016 NCAA Division III Championships. Her favorite event is the 200 Butterfly and she likes to compete in long-distance open water competitions in the college off-season.

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